Monday, March 9, 2015

09/03/2015: Growing concern over future of Singapore fish farms amid recurring plankton blooms

The plankton bloom which wiped out more than 500 tonnes of fish along the East Johor Strait last week, and seems to have now affected farms in the western side, has raised concerns on the industry's future here, Singapore’s Straits Times reports.

Affected farmers told The Straits Times that despite earlier warnings given by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA), they were shocked at how sudden and severe the latest bloom was.

Mr Simon Ho, who is in his 60s and has been in the business for five years, had put in oxygen compressors since receiving the warnings in the middle of last month. But he still lost all 35 tonnes of his fish- the product of more than a year's worth of work - at his farm off Lorong Halus jetty.

In January and February last year, thousands of fish died after being poisoned by plankton blooms caused by high temperatures and low tides.

But Mr Frank Tan, 40, who owns Marine Life Aquaculture, said that unlike last year, the bloom was much harder to detect this time.

The bloom typically turns water brownish-red, when the plankton appear in large numbers. This year, he did not see this happening.

Some fish farmers say their enterprise is a "high risk" one, given that they already have to cope with unpredictable environmental factors, such as temperature.

Of Singapore's 126 fish farms, 117 are coastal, and most grow their fish in net cages in the sea. That means the livestock is vulnerable to changes in the environment.

Now the worry is that the deadly plankton blooms may become an annual affair.

The answer may be to rear the fish in a closed containment aquaculture system, which will shield the animals from external factors.

These systems include putting the fish in giant tanks into which filtered and oxygenated seawater is pumped. These tanks can be placed on land or on platforms out at sea.

But older farmers are reluctant to make the change from the farming methods they grew up with and know so well, while others say containment systems simply cost too much.

Read more HERE.

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